Lenin: ‘Democracy and Dictatorship’ (1918)

Written in December 1918 and published in Pravda the following month, Lenin’s Democracy and Dictatorship contained responses to supporters of the Constituent Assembly:

“Apparently the chief question of the revolution both in Germany and Austria now is: Constituent Assembly or Soviet government? Some speak about “pure democracy” and “democracy” in general for the purpose of deceiving the people and concealing from them the bourgeois character of present-day democracy.

Let the bourgeoisie continue to keep the entire apparatus of state power in their hands, let a handful of exploiters continue to use the former, bourgeois, state machine! Elections held in such circumstances are praised by the bourgeoisie – for very good reasons – as being “free”, “equal”, “democratic” and “universal”. These words are designed to conceal the truth, to conceal the fact that the means of production and political power remain in the hands of the exploiters, and that therefore real freedom and real equality for the exploited – that is, for the vast majority of the population – are out of the question.

It is profitable and indispensable for the bourgeoisie to conceal from the people the bourgeois character of modern democracy, to picture it as democracy in general or “pure democracy”. And the men who are repeating this, in practice abandon the standpoint of the proletariat and side with the bourgeoisie.

It is sheer mockery of the working and exploited people to speak of pure democracy, of democracy in general, of equality, freedom and universal rights when the workers and all working people are ill-fed, ill-clad, ruined and worn out not only as a result of capitalist wage-slavery. As a consequence of four years of predatory war, the capitalists and profiteers remain in possession of the “property” usurped by them and the “ready-made” apparatus of state power.

This is tantamount to trampling on the basic truths of Marxism which has taught the workers: you must take advantage of bourgeois democracy which, compared with feudalism, represents a great historical advance – but not for one minute must you forget the bourgeois character of this “democracy”, its historically conditional and limited character. Never share the “superstitious belief” in the state and never forget that the state, even in the most democratic republic… is simply a machine for the suppression of one class by another.

The dictatorship of the proletariat alone can emancipate humanity from the oppression of capital, from the lies, falsehood and hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy – democracy for the rich – and establish democracy for the poor. [Only it can] make the blessings of democracy really accessible to the workers and poor peasants. [Under bourgeois systems] the blessings of democracy are, in fact, inaccessible to the vast majority of working people.”